Jan 2, 2016

1986 World Champion Mets Pitcher: Rick Aguilera (1985-1989)

Richard Warren Aguilera was born December 31, 1961 in San Gabriel, California. He was originally drafted in 1980 by the St. Louis Cardinals but chose not to sign.

The tall six foot four right hander, attended Brigham Young University, where he played on the same team with future big leaguers Cory Snyder & Wally Joyner. Aguilera was originally a third baseman who converted to pitching and got drafted by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1983 draft.

He went through the minors pitching well going 6-5 at AAA Tidewater in 1985, earning a call up when Bruce Berenyi went down with an injury. He debuted on June 12th at Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium earning the win pitching two innings in the Mets 7-3 extra inning victory. He got his first start at Montreal later that week but took a loss. Aguilera had a good July, going 3-0 with a 0.89 ERA, and ended the season 10-7 with a 3.24 ERA. Rick was also a good hitter, batting .278 at the plate.

He entered the 1986 season as the Mets number five starter, on a real good pitching staff. He struggled a bit at first, going 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA, not recording his first win until June 15th when he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5.1 innings pitched.

He came around after that winning five straight starts from July 12th through August 7th including two complete games. The first came in Atlanta on a one run eight hit night over the Braves. The second came at Wrigley Field where he allowed three runs on seven hits in a 12-3 Mets romp. 

He then lost three straight, including a debacle where he allowed six earned runs to the Giants in San Francisco. He finished up strong ending the season 3-1 in September. He closed out the 1986 Championship season with an identical 10-7 record, posting a 3.88 ERA, striking out 104 batters, walking 36 in 141 innings over 28 appearances.

Post Season: In the NLCS he found himself in the bullpen permanently, a role he would have great success the rest of his career. Rick went on to pitch five scoreless innings in relief against the Houston Astros, including three scoreless innings in the 16-inning classic NLCS Game #6 clincher.

In the 1986 World Series he was hit hard in Game #2 coming in relief of Dwight Gooden, giving up two runs on five hits.

In Game #6 he struggled again, by blowing the lead in the 10th inning, most famously serving up Dave Henderson’s big HR off the left field foul pole. After the inning he looked very nervous & upset with his head hung low, in the dugout during the bottom of the 10th.

But as fate would have it, he got off the hook, & got credit for the victory when the Mets miraculously won it with four base hits, a wild pitch & Mookie Wilsons little roller up along first base that went through Bill Buckners legs. Overall he had a horrid ERA of 12.00 allowing four runs & eight hits over three innings.

He had a modest start to the 1987 season going 4-2 by the end of May with a 4.03 ERA. From there he missed three months of action with elbow troubles which gave the team a big blow.

When he returned he went on a roll winning six straight games, eight of nine through the end of the year. In September he made seven starts winning six of those games, although he only pitched beyond the 7th inning twice.

Overall the Mets finished in second place, Aguilera went 11-3 with 77 strike outs in 115 innings posting a 3.60 ERA. He had an elbow operation which also kept him out for most of 1988 as he went 0-4 in just 11 games. He did see action in the 1988 NLCS, pitching seven innings allowing only one run.

By 1989 David Cone took had taken his place in the rotation and Aguilera was put in the bullpen for good. He did well in relief and took over Roger McDowell’s job as the right handed reliever Davey Johnson went to. He was 6-6 with seven saves through July, but on the trade deadline he was dealt to the Minnesota Twins with David West, Tim Drummond and Kevin Tapani in exchange for Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola. Aguilera returned to a starting role until the end of the 1989 season.

When Jeff Reardon left for Boston, Tom Kelly asked Aguilera to take over the closer spot. He saved 32 games with a 2.76 ERA for the last-place Twins in 1990. His best pitch was his slider and he had great control making him very tough, especially effective against lefties. Over the next five seasons, he averaged 35 saves and just fewer than 18 walks a year. 

In 1991, he made his first of three consecutive All Star appearances, tying Reardon's single-season club record with 42 saves.

Post Season: Rick had 3 saves in the ALCS not allowing a run in the 3 innings he pitched. He followed that up with 2 more saves against Atlanta in the World Series. He only gave up one run on 6 hits in 4 games, with 5 innings pitched. In Game#3 he became the first pitcher since Don Drysdale (1965) to pinch-hit in a World Series game. He flied out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

The following season, Aguilera became the Twins' all-time save leader, finishing the season with 41. In 1994 he was traded to Boston in exchange for rookie pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. He earned his first save with the Red Sox the following night against his old Twins teammates at the Metro dome.

He finished the season with twenty saves in twenty-one opportunities (32 overall) but gave up a game-tying homer to the Indians' Albert Belle in the eleventh inning of Game One of the AL Division Series. He returned to Minnesota as a free agent and went back to being a starter going 8-6. On September 7 (Kirby Puckett Night at the Metro dome) Aguilera suffered a season-ending hamstring pull.

He returned as a closer in 1997 saving 26 games, then 38 saves the next season. He spent his final two seasons with the Cubs, calling it quits after a 29-save season in 2000.

He finished his 16 year career at 86-81 with 318 saves (15th best all time) he struck out 1030 batters in 1291 innings pitched, posting a 3.57 ERA in 732 games. During the decade of the nineties he was in the top six in saves, eight times, the top three four times but never led the league.

Retirement: Since 2008 Aguilera has been the head baseball coach at Santa Fe Christian Schools in Solana Beach, California.

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